History of Miguel Hidalgo for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine that you are hiking through a dense jungle in Mexico.  The leaves around you are thick and wet. You use a sword to chop your way ahead. Sometimes you stumble and fall on roots or get stuck in vines that block your path. The weather is hot and humid. Your body is covered in sweat. You are thirsty and your muscles are tired and ache, but you keep moving. You keep pressing on. A long line of fellow Mexicans are hiking with you, moving quietly towards your goal. You and your fellow soldiers are determined to defeat the Spanish who rule your country. You want them to leave so you can rule it yourselves. Leading your group is a priest who has great ideas of how Mexico can be independent, can become its own country, free from Spanish rule.  You are following one of the most famous Mexican men in history: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, also known as the “Father of Mexico.”

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Mexican Catholic priest who called for a revolution, or rebellion, against the Spanish government in 1810.  Hidalgo, as he is commonly known, is thought of as the “Father of Mexican Independence” due to his role in helping the mexican people fight against Spanish rulers. 

In 1753 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was born near Guanajuato, Mexico.  At that time, the name of the country was not Mexico, but rather it was called “New Spain” because Europeans from Spain had settled in the area and claimed it as their own. But most of the people living in Mexico weren’t from Spain, they and their ancestors had lived there long before the Spanish arrived and conquered their lands. 

Miguel was the second son of Cristobal Hidalgo y Costilla and Ana Maria Gallaga Mandarte y Villasenor.  Miguel’s dad was an administrator, or government worker of the hacienda, or town. 

When Miguel was growing up, his family was fairly rich, so he had a good, easy life.  He was considered to be a “creole” person, which means his ancestors were Spanish.  He had loving parents and had fun with his older brother Jose Joaquin.  

When Miguel was 12, his father sent him and his brother Jose Joaquin to the city of (Vaya-dolid) Valladolid to go to school.  Miguel studied religion and after completing a lot of courses on various religious topics, or courses about God and the meaning of life, he became a Catholic priest in 1778.  

After he was a priest, Miguel Hidalgo became known as Father Hidalgo. He returned to his hometown university to teach philosophy, which means the study of how humans think, and theology, which means the study of God.  

Now that Miguel was an adult and a priest, he was able to travel and meet people.  He loved to learn and was particularly interested in European ways and thinking.  This was not the normal path for a Mexican Catholic priest in the 18th century!  Most priests stayed in their church area and spent their days praying.  But Miguel was too curious about the world and too social to stay in one place and not ask questions and learn new things. This is the best way to learn new things, be curious and ask questions! 

Even thought he was different from most priests at the time, Miguel became the rector, or leader, of the church of San Nicolas in 1790.  Unfortunately though, the other priests in the area did not like the way he behaved, so he was only in the role as rector for two years. 

Father Hidalgo moved on to lead the churches in the towns of Colima and then San Felipe Torres Mochas and later Dolores. Besides studying, he also grew grape vines and olive trees in the church gardens.  He opened a pottery-making studio, or art area, and taught himself to make pots. He had many hobbies to keep his life interesting. 

Father Hidalgo was very giving and showed compassion for poor people in the towns where he lived.  Compassion means concern for someone’s suffering. Father Hidalgo put on classes to teach poor people skills that they could use to make money, like carpentry, or woodworking, and blacksmithing, which means to make things out of iron or metal. 

Because of his interest in learning and philosophy, Father Hidalgo became very involved with the small group of educated people that lived in his town.  These educated people had gone to university and learned about politics and government and they weren’t happy with the way that Spain was controlling their country of New Spain. Remember at this time Spain controlled Mexico and didn’t let them vote or make their own decisions.  

In 1808, a new Spanish leader named Joseph was put in charge of the Spanish territories, including New Spain, where Father Hidalgo lived.  The people of New Spain did not like their new rulers, as they were mean and greedy.  He and his friends planned to remove the Spanish rulers from being in charge and get their old king, the King of Spain, released and put back in place as their leader. 

The Spanish rulers learned that there was a secret plot to take over, so Father Hidalgo and his friends had to speed up their plans. In Dolores, Father Hidalgo climbed to the top of the church where he lived and with all of his might rang the church bell.  This was the signal that their fight against their Spanish rulers had begun. Then, he went outside the church and waved a banner of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. This was September 16, 1810 and became a famous event called the Grito de Dolores or “Cry of Dolores”. This was the beginning of the Mexican people’s fight for freedom.

Father Hidalgo’s second in command was a military captain named Ignacio Allende.  Together Father Hidalgo and Captain Allende led a group of creole and first nations men into towns and cities near where they lived.  They gathered more men in the towns and cities and slowly the size of their group grew.  With each town they moved through, the group took control of the Spanish government and replaced it with their own. 

Unfortunately as the group grew bigger, so did it’s problems.  Father Hidalgo’s goal was to take power back from the Spanish. But the group of men that became his followers grew more and more violent.  The Catholic Church was not happy about what they saw happening.  They removed Father Hidalgo from his role as priest and member of the Church.

Miguel was no longer called “Father Hidalgo” anymore, but that didn’t stop him from his mission of removing the Spanish from power in his country.  Miguel and his followers continued to move through more cities until they finally arrived at Mexico City, the biggest city in Mexico.  

There, the Spanish were ready with their army. Gunshots rang out, smoke filled the air, a battle broke out between the Spanish army and Miguel’s army. Soon Miguel and his army had to retreat or move back to safety, in a city called Guadalajara.  There, Miguel formed a new small government that declared that they were in charge.  One of the first things his government did was declare an end to slavery and promise to return lands to the Indigenous people.  These were very modern ideas for the time. 

In Guadalajara, Miguel also started a newspaper called El Despertador Americano, which means “The American Alarm Clock.”  The newspaper published stories and information about the revolution.  Revolution means a forced overthrow of the government. They were determined to become free from Spanish rule. 

In January 1811, Miguel and his men gathered at Calderon Bridge outside of the city of Guadelajara to meet a small Spanish army for a battle.  The Spanish army was well trained and well armed. Weapons were fired. The Spanish had a better army and Miguel and his soldiers had to run away.  After this loss, Miguel’s friend, Captain Allende, became the new leader of the group of rebel fighters.

But some of the survivors of the battle followed Miguel north to join a group that was setting up in what is now the American city of San Antonio.  Along the way they were captured by the Spanish army near a town called Coahuila. The group members were put on trial and were found guilty of fighting against the ruling Spanish.

Miguel and his fellow soldiers had fought bravely but did not survive to continue fighting with their fellow countrymen. But the revolution that he started continued even after he was gone.  In 1821, Mexico eventually won the war against Spain and became independent. If you live in the United States, this event was similar to Independence Day when Americans became free from British and the King’s rule.

September 16 is now celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to the 4th of July in the United States. This is the day Mexico became its own country. Every year on this date, Mexican people celebrate their heritage and brave people like Miguel Hidalgo who fought for their freedom.  Usually the President of Mexico will do the same thing Hidalgo did, go to the church’s bell tower and ring the bell to signal the start of the war of Independence called the “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores.”

After he died, Miguel’s remains were buried in a monument in Mexico City, now called the Angel of Independence monument.  This monument celebrates the “Father of Mexican Independence” which is Miguel Hidalgo’s nickname.  There is also a state in Mexico named after Miguel, called Hidalgo, and the town that Miguel was originally a priest at is now known as “Dolores Hidalgo.”

We can learn a lot from Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. He was very curious and was always learning. He also had many hobbies to keep life interesting. He was also very brave and risked his life to push out the Spanish rulers who controlled his country.  He was organized and a strong leader, and passionate about freedom, and because of this he had many people who followed him into battle and believed in his cause.  Because of his bravery and beliefs, Miguel is now remembered as the “Father of Mexican Independence.” 

Learning about Miguel is also a great chance to learn more about Mexico, it’s people and its culture. Mexico has a vibrant culture with delicious food, music, dancing, and artwork. Family is very important in a culture where they take care of each other and meet often to eat and enjoy time together. Mexican culture has also become a big part of American culture, seeing that over 36 million people living in the United States are of Mexican ancestry.  Be sure to look up some videos about Mexico and Mexican culture. One of our family’s favorite movies is Pixar’s “Coco.” Be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet.

Thanks for listening to this episode about Miguel Hidalgo and be sure to tune in next Monday for a new episode!

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha For Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you’re a prince or a princess, living in a giant, luxurious palace. There your parents make sure that you have everything you could ever want or need: lots of toys, fine clothes, the best education. You’re surrounded by beautiful gardens and expensive things. You have servants to clean up after you, bring your food, and help with everything. When you’re not learning from private tutors, you spend your days swimming, practicing archery and swordsmanship, and riding horses. The palace is so massive, it’s your entire world and you never even need to leave. 

Now imagine you decide to give that all up. You’re not happy with that life. You wonder if life has a greater meaning. You wonder if possessions can ever make people truly happy and content. This was the life Siddhartha Gautama found himself in. You might have heard of him: now, we call him Buddha. 

The story of how Siddhartha became Buddha begins even before his birth. Siddhartha’s father was king of a small kingdom in northern India in the sixth century BCE over 2,500 years ago!  Several years before Siddhartha was born, the king was visited by sages, or wise men, who told him his son would be either a great king, or a great holy man. Of course, Siddhartha’s father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and be a great king.  So when Siddhartha was born in 567 BCE, his father decided to shelter his son from the world, so he wouldn’t know about suffering and death. He thought that if Siddhartha never saw bad things in the world, he wouldn’t want to fix them, and so he wouldn’t want to become a holy man. 

So Siddhartha grew up surrounded by all the comforts and privileges money could buy. When he became a young man, he married a woman named Gopa. He seemed to have it all, but the plan Siddhartha’s father made for him to become a great king was about to fall apart. Instead of accepting the life of luxury that he was given, Siddhartha grew restless living in the palace. One day, he asked his father to let him go on a chariot ride to see the city around the palace. His father agreed, but told the chariot driver to stay in the richer parts of the city, close to the palace, to avoid letting Siddhartha see people who were poor or suffering. 

Siddhartha set out in the chariot with his driver. Before long, they saw an old man, slowly hobbling along the road, looking as if he might fall over at any moment. Siddhartha had never seen such an old man, and he asked his driver what was wrong with him. 

His driver replied, “He is very old. His body has grown weak with age. You too will grow old someday. All people do.”

Siddhartha was disturbed, but asked him to drive on. Later in the ride, they saw a sick man lying by the side of the road. He was groaning and looked very unhappy. Again, Siddhartha asked what was wrong with the man. 

His driver replied, “He is sick with a terrible disease. Everyone gets sick sometimes. Someday, you will get sick.”

Siddhartha felt terrible, seeing this man suffering, but they continued their ride through the city. 

On their way back to the palace, they came across a funeral procession. People were crying and moaning. For a third time, Siddhartha asked his chariot driver what was happening.

Again, his driver replied. “Someone has died, and these people are his friends and family. They are mourning for him.”  

When Siddhartha returned home, he could not stop thinking about the old man, the sick man, and the funeral. He thought about these things happening to his father and mother, to his wife, and to himself. He realized that all the treasure in the palace, all the servants waiting on him, all the beautiful things surrounding him, could not prevent him or anyone else from the sad things he sad. He realized that he wanted to find a way to help people overcome suffering. 

Once he realized these things, Siddhartha knew he could no longer live an easy life in the palace. So one day, he said goodbye to his family, and set out to find the cause of suffering. He cut his hair and lived as an ascetic – someone who chooses to live in poverty and simplicity. He studied meditation with great holy men and discussed the problem of suffering with them, but after many years of living this way, he still didn’t know why it happened, or how he could prevent it.

Finally, he decided to sit and meditate under a bodhi tree. He vowed not to leave until he had the answer to the problem of human suffering.  Siddhartha sat meditating day and night, still and calm as a statue, for six days. On the sixth day, he opened his eyes and realized he understood the nature of suffering. He became enlightened and from then on was known as Buddha, which means awakened one. 

For the rest of his life, Buddha travelled throughout India, teaching others about what he had discovered. He taught people the four noble truths he had realized about suffering. The first truth is that everyone suffers and has hard things happen to them. It’s just part of life. 

The second truth is that we suffer because we are always wanting more, and trying to hold onto what we have. This might sound surprising. Didn’t he start his quest because he saw people who were suffering because they were old, sick, and dying? Buddha thought that the real reason we suffer is not because bad things happen to us, but because we allow negative feelings and desires to take over our thinking. If we’re sick, we lie around feeling sorry for ourselves, and wishing we were well. But then when we’re healthy, we think of other things we want, but don’t have, and we still suffer. 

Think about a time when you really wanted a new toy or game. It probably felt very unfair that you didn’t have it, and then, if you did get it, you might have been happy for a short time, but then you were just back to normal and wanted something new. We become attached to things, or even ideas of things, and those things are not permanent. This keeps us spending all our time wanting things we don’t have, and worrying we’ll lose what we do have. He taught that things like toys and games and other things we might buy don’t really make us happy deep down and any happiness we do feel doesn’t last.

The third truth is that we can overcome suffering. Once we overcome suffering, Buddha thought, we could reach a state of nirvana, or perfect peace and happiness, just as he did when he meditated under the bodhi tree. 

Finally, the fourth truth tells us how to overcome suffering. The way Buddha thought we overcome suffering is by following what he called the “eightfold path.” I won’t go over all eight parts of the path, but basically, to follow the eightfold path, we must always try to improve ourselves: this means being kind and honest; try not to harm anyone or anything; and act with compassion. We must also learn to pay attention to their own thoughts. As we pay attention to our thoughts we can better understand the thoughts that make us feel sad. This helps us think in a new way. This paying attention to our thoughts is called meditation.

Buddha taught that following the eight-fold path creates good karma.  Karma is the idea that everything you do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Kind actions tend to have positive consequences, and unkind actions, negative consequences. This isn’t a consequence like a reward or a punishment – it’s just a thing that happens as a result of an action. He taught that by building up a lot of good karma, you can reach nirvana, a state of true enlightenment. 

Buddha spent the rest of his life travelling around India, teaching what he had discovered to anyone who wanted to learn. He encouraged his followers to try out the practices he taught for themselves, to see how well they worked, and to gather in communities to learn and help each other. Community was important, because Buddha knew that to be truly happy, people need to feel compassion and kindness for both themselves and others. This is called metta in Buddhism.

After its beginnings in India, Buddhism spread throughout South and East Asia, and was practiced widely in Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, China, and Japan, among others. Today, people around the world practice Buddhism in different forms. For some it’s a religion, but for others it’s simply a way of looking at life.

Like Buddha taught, you can take the time to meditate each day. Meditating is a good chance to breathe deeply and slow your thoughts. It can also help you look closely at your thoughts. Your thoughts often lead to how you’re feeling. So if you have lots of negative thoughts those may be causing negative feelings. Breathing deeply and clearing your mind can give you the positive energy you need to help yourself and help others. There are a lot of great ways to start meditating. You can find videos, podcasts and apps, that can get your started. But the simplest way is to just set a timer and try and sit and relax during that time while breathing deeply. 

Also, like Buddha taught, remember that things that we buy won’t always make us happy. Toys eventually break, or they go out of fashion, and we’ll always want something new. Think about how you might turn your attention to more important things like spending time with your family and friends, learning something new, or doing good for others. These are things that last longer and will give you greater, deeper joy.   

I hope you enjoyed this episode about Buddha. Be sure to check in next Monday for a new episode!

Sources

Fields, Rick. “Who Is the Buddha?” in: Tricycle, Spring 1997. https://tricycle.org/magazine/who-was-buddha-2/

Meyers, Rachel. Curiosity Chronicles: Snapshots of Ancient History. Little Monster Schooling, 2017.

Nagaraja, Dharmachari. Buddha at Bedtime.Watkins, 2016.

The History of Easter for Kids

Have you ever heard of Easter Island?  Many movies talk about it and some even say that is where the Easter Bunny lives.  But in fact, it is a real place that has nothing to do with the holiday of Easter. But many people know of Easter Island from the large famous face statues that are often seen in pictures of the place.  So why does Easter Island have this name?

Easter Island is a large island that covers nearly 65 square miles.  It is located in the South Pacific Ocean, far off of the west coast of the country of Chile in South America.  It is also an almost equal number of miles to the east of Tahiti.  

Many people have been confused about the name “Easter Island” and have wondered whether the island has something to do with the holiday of Easter. Is this where the Easter Bunny lives when he is not hopping around the world delivering eggs?  Let’s find out. 

The first people to live on Easter Island arrived on the island around the year 400 A.D. They were from another Polynesian island close by and they came to Easter Island looking for a new place to live.  These first people called the island “Rapa Nui”.  Because of its remote, or far away, location, the first peoples of Rapa Nui lived there on their own for hundreds of years before there were any other visitors from other countries. 

The traditions and stories of the Polynesian people say that the first king of Rapa Nui was named “Hoto-Matua”.  He was a ruler of a group of people that traveled around many islands in the area.  The group of explorers led by Hoto-Matua was searching for a new place to make their home. The story says that after traveling thousands of miles, the exploring group landed at a sandy beach on the island.  The island of Rapa Nui is actually quite rocky on the coast, or edge of the land near the water.

The traditional Polynesian story says that the group, led by their leader, Hoto-Matua, landed on the sandy beach, which was one of the only sandy spots on the coast. The group explored the island and found that it was a great place to live.  It was abundant, with many fish and other types of food, and had a good climate or weather.  They decided to stay and build their home on this newly found island.  This is the start of the first peoples living on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The first peoples learned how to harvest food and fish on the island, including native fruit and plants.   They grew in size over time and developed a long and rich culture over the hundreds of years since the first group arrived.

One of the best pieces of evidence ot the early people that lived on the island is the giant stone statues that have been found around Easter Island.  These statues are called “moai” and are part of what makes Easter Island famous.  You may have even seen pictures of these statues before.  They look like giant stone heads sticking out of the ground. 

There are over 900 moai statues all over Easter Island.  The statues are all around 13 feet (or 4 meters) high, with a weight of 13 tons!  They are huge faces and chests carved out of a type of rock called “tuff”.  Tuff is a light and porous rock, or rock with holes in it, that was made from volcanic ashes.  One thing that many people don’t know about the statues is that they actually go into the ground and continue at least partly underground.  They are a mystery that no one can really solve. 

No one today knows why these statues were made and why there are so many.  It is also a mystery why they were built so big and how they were moved around the island.

One thing is for sure: the statues show that their creators, the early people of Easter Island, were very good craftsmen and engineers, or people who design and make strong structures.  And while the early people who lived on Easter Island were partly Polynesian, the statues on Easter island are distinct, or different only to them, so their culture was different than the Polynesian culture.

In modern times, researchers have determined that there were three different cultural phases, or separate times in human history there.  During the early and middle periods, statues were built and torn down and then rebuilt in the same places.  In the later period, the statues were built even bigger than before and are the statues that we see pictures of today. 

The first European person to visit Easter Island was a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen.  He came exploring the area in the year 1722. Captain Roggeveen and his crew arrived on the island on the holiday of Easter.  To help remember the day and celebrate it, the Dutch named the island Paaseiland, which means “Easter Island” in Dutch. 

In 1770, the Spanish government in Peru sent a group of explorers to Easter Island. The explorers spent four days on the island.  They found that there were about 3,000 native people living on the island. 

Unfortunately, as more and more explorers started visiting the island, they also had diseases that the local islanders had not been around before.  As a result, many of the native islanders died and by 1877, there were only 111 native people living on the island. 

By 1877, Catholic explorers had come to the island to convert, or teach and change the local people to, Christianity.  By the late 19th century, almost all of the people living on the island were Christians. 

In 1888, Chile started using the land to raise sheep.  The government of Chile also appointed a governor to be in charge of Easter Island in 1965, and the island’s people all became Chilean citizens. 

Easter Island is the shape of a triangle and measures 14 miles long by 7 miles wide. It was formed by a series of volcano eruptions over time.  The island has many hills and caves within the rocks that go way back into the mountains.  Because much of the rock on the island is made of volcanic rock, it is easy for the rock to form caves and holes over time. 

Easter Island’s largest volcano is called Rano Kao.  It has a highest point that its called Mount Terevaka that reaches 1,665 feet (or 508 meters) above the sea.  

Easter Island is a sub-tropical, which means it is located below the mid-point of the Earth called the equator and has sunny and dry weather. 

Easter Island does not have any natural bays to form harbours that are places for boats to be parked away from the harsh weather of the ocean. The island’s largest village is called Hanga Roa. It was made into a World Heritage site in 1995, so it will not be developed into a tourist place full of hotels and other developments. 

Today, Easter Island is home to a mixed group of people.  Many of the people living on the island have Polynesian ancestors, or older relatives. The locals now mostly speak Spanish and there are some tourists that visit during the year.

The History of St. Patrick’s Day for Kids

Imagine you are in Boston and it is March 17.  You are walking down the street with your family, when suddenly you hear a marching band in the distance.  It sounds loud and fun, with fiddles and pipes and drums.  What is that noise?  It is getting closer and closer and you stand by and watch as around the corner come hundreds of people dressed in green.  They are laughing and playing music.  Some are wearing red wigs and fake beards.  “What is going on?” you ask your parents.  “Why, it’s St. Patrick’s Day of course” they reply. 

St. Patrick’s Day is a special day that is celebrated around the world each year on March 17 to celebrate Irish culture and history.  It is also a date meant to remember the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s day has become a large celebration around the world of Irish culture and pride, with parades, special foods, dancing, music and people wearing all things green!

But what is the history of St. Patrick’s Day and why do we celebrate it? 

St. Patrick’s Day started as a day to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the 5th century and grew up with a father who was a deacon of their local church.  So even though St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, he was not actually Irish but actually British. 

When Patrick was 16 years old, Irish raiders came to his village and he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave.  A slave is someone who is held captive and has to do work for another person for no money.  Patrick spent 6 years living in Ireland as a slave herdsman, taking care of cattle.  He was sad living as a slave and turned to prayer and religion to keep his spirits up.  He prayed regularly to escape so he could return home. 

One night when he was 24, Patrick snuck away from his master and got onto a ship headed back to Britain.  It was a difficult journey and Patrick didn’t have anything to eat on the way, so he nearly starved to death.  However, Patrick made it successfully to the other side of the sea to his own country of Britain. 

Patrick lived in Britain for a short while again.  But one day while reading about the Irish people, he felt called to return to Ireland and teach the Irish people about his religion, Christianity. Although he had doubts about whether it was a good idea, he decided to return to Ireland, this time as a free man. 

Patrick returned to Ireland and traveled broadly throughout the country, teaching people everywhere he went about his religion. It was a dangerous time to be traveling alone as a foreigner and trying to convert people.  To convert means to change people’s thinking so that they believe the same things as you.  However, Patrick had great faith in his mission and carried on, despite being arrested, put in chains, and threatened with death.

As Patrick traveled around Ireland and became more well known, myths and legends started to grow about him.  Myths and legends are imaginary stories. One of these legends was that Patrick scared all of the snakes in Ireland out of the country and into the sea where they died.  Some people believed that Patrick was also able to bring people back from the dead and that he was able to create food out of thin air. 

One of the most well known legends about St. Patrick is that he explained the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity to Irish people by using the three leaves of an Irish clover or shamrock.  Shamrocks have since become symbols of St. Patrick’s day. 

St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D.  However, he did not actually become a saint until many years later, which is the normal process for Catholic sainthood.  March 17th became celebrated around the world as “St. Patrick’s day” at first to celebrate him, and later to celebrate Irish cultural heritage generally.  Cultural heritage means traditions and ways of life that have passed down through generations.

In Ireland today, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated as a religious holiday.  Irish families celebrate by going to church in the morning and having a party in the afternoon.  Irish people will usually dance and drink in their afternoon parties and eat a meal that includes meat, such as Irish bacon and cabbage. 

In America and other places with many Irish immigrants, St. Patricks day is celebrated on March 17, but with different traditions. In these countries, people of Irish descent hold large annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums. Many people wear green and dress up. 

The tradition started in America in the 1840s, when many Irish people left Ireland due to the Great Potato Famine of 1845.  A famine is an extreme shortage of food. In the 1840s, nearly 1 million poor Irish people moved to America to escape starvation in Ireland.  With so many Irish people now living in New York and other American cities, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew in size and popularity. 

In 1848, many New York Irish societies decided to join together to form one big St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Today, that parade is the largest parade in the United States with over 150,000 people participating each year and 3 million people watching on the side of the road.  There are also very large St. Patrick’s Day parades held in other cities, including Boston and Chicago.

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States and around the world, cities and countries developed their own traditions.  This is especially true in the United States, Canada and Australia.  Some common traditions include wearing shamrocks, which represents St. Patrick’s teachings to the Irish people.  Many people like to plan Irish music, including fiddles and pipes, on St. Patrick’s day.  There is a tradition of people carrying a snake staff in St. Patrick’s day parades to represent St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.  

In Chicago, the city even dyes the local river green for St. Patrick’s Day!

While Irish people eat bacon and cabbage on St. Patricks, Irish Americans now celebrate by eating a meal of corned beef and cabbage. This is because the first Irish immigrants to America were very poor and couldn’t afford the traditional bacon and cabbage that they ate back home. Instead they had corned beef and cabbage, having learned about this cheaper meat from their new Jewish neighbours in America. 

Many listeners will likely have heard about the small Irish imp called a “leprechaun”.  Leprechauns come from old Celtic belief in fairies, which were tiny, magical men and women. In old Celtic fairy tales, leprechauns were cranky little people that were responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Leprechauns were also believed to be hiding gold and would use trickery to protect their hiding places. Today, many people like to dress up as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day. 

One tradition that many children are familiar with is the practice of pinching people on St. Patrick’s day if they are not wearing green. Because green came to be seen as the color of Irish pride amongst Irish people in America, pinching those who were not wearing green started as a gentle way of reprimanding those who were not showing Irish pride.  To reprimand means to scold or criticize someone.  However, now-of-days, kids do this mostly just for fun.  So don’t forget to wear something green on March 17th!

Have you ever seen and participated in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations?  What are some of the ways that your family celebrates their cultural heritage?  

If you do leave a comment or message on the Bedtime History Facebook or Instagram pages.  We’d love to hear more about your family and cultural celebrations.  And for those who celebrate, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

History of Mahatma Gandhi for Kids

Have you heard ever heard of a country called India? India is between China and the Middle East and much of it is surrounded by the Indian Ocean. India is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations and for many years was one of the richest countries in the world. Over one billion people live in India. It has more people than any other country in the world, second only to China. 

In the 1800s the British Empire ruled many countries of the world including America. During the American Revolution the Patriots fought off the British King and his soldiers and became their own free country. At the time of our story the British Empire was still in control of India. This is the story of how India came to be free and the man who helped make it happen.

In 1869 in the city of Porbander, India a boy named Mahandas Ghandi was born in a small home to a simple family. The Ghandis were good people. The father was a leader in the city and his mother was a very religious woman. She taught her children to pray and read scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Vegas, and some texts from the Bible and Quaran. The Ghandis were Hindu, so they didn’t drinking wine or eat meat. Ghandi’s mother also taught the family to fast — which means going without food for a certain period of time. She believed it gave them strength and self control. 

When Mahandas was little he was very playful and sometimes liked to cause trouble. Often he would chase down dogs and twist their ears. He also loved to listen to classic Indian stories, such as the stories of Shravan and Harischandra, which were epic tales about virtue and adventure. These stories taught good principles and helped Mahandas want to be a good person.

At age nine Mahandas started school and there learned math, history, language and geography. He was just an okay student and pretty shy and had trouble speaking. This made him very nervous when he had to speak in front of his class, but he did like books and learning.

At this time in India people got married very young. Mahandas was 13 when he married a girl named Kasturba. When Kasturba was 17 they had their first baby, but sadly she didn’t live very long. This same year Mahandas also lost his father, so it was a very hard time for him. But later Mahandas and Kasturba had four more children, so it made them happy to be parents.

Next Ghandi decided to travel to London, the capital of the British Empire, to go to college to become a lawyer. A lawyer is someone who helps others work with the law, the rules that keep a country in order. Ghandi’s parents were worried while he was there he wouldn’t live his religion, that he would eat meat and drink alcohol and do other things they didn’t approve of. But when he left he promised them he would stay faithful no matter what. And Ghandi did live up to his word, he stayed strong in his Hindu religion while he was away from home. This is called commitment and dedication to something you believe in.

Ghandi learned a lot about the English people while he was in London. He had always been shy and at first school was difficult, but instead of giving up he joined a group that taught him how to speak louder and more clearly and with lots of practice he became a very good speaker.

After finishing college, Ghandi got a job working for a shipping company in South Africa. At this time the British Empire also ruled South Africa. In South Africa Ghandi was treated badly by the English because he was from India. Once when he was on a train they didn’t let him sit with other people. They picked him up and threw him off the train. Ghandi was so upset by this he refused to leave the train station until they let him on the next train. This is called a protest. Finally, they let Ghandi back on the train. Many times Ghandi was treated badly because he was from India. He started to think England shouldn’t be in control of India anymore. 

When Ghandi moved back to India and he was determined to do everything he could to make India a free country. He began speaking and writing about what the India people needed to do to become free. But Ghandi was a peaceful person and didn’t believe in hurting others to become free. Instead they would peacefully protest and use civil disobedience — which means finding other ways to make your point other than violence. 

One thing England did to control India was tax the things they bought, this meant charging extra for food and clothes and keeping the money. So instead of buying clothes and salt from England, Ghandi decided to make his own clothes and salt. He learned how to make his own clothes and started wearing them. Thousands of other India people started doing the same. This made the British upset, because they were losing money. To make his own salt, Ghandi began a journey to the ocean. He walked over 200 miles to make salt in the ocean. People all over India followed him and did the same. All across the world people saw what Ghandi and the India people were doing and sympathized with them. Ghandi was put in jail many times for his actions. He would go without eating until they would set him free. What Ghandi was doing was very difficult, but he was sacrificing his owns desires for the country and people he loved.

Sometimes the Indian people wanted to use guns and weapons to fight the British leaders, but Ghandi continually taught that this was the wrong way. He used scriptures of many different religions to show that peace was a better way. When his people did start to fight Ghandi would go without eating for many days until they stopped. The people often stopped because they loved Ghandi and didn’t want him to be hungry.

Eventually, England let India become free. The amazing part of this story is that it came about without a big war and lots of people dying. This was truly a miracle and Ghandi showed the world that freedom can come about through peaceful ways. The Indian people and Ghandi celebrated. They were so happy to be in control of their own country. The time after this was very challenging as they figured out how to be on their own, but it gave them a chance to make their own choices and be a free people.

Not long after India became free Ghandi passed away, but his mission was complete and the Indian people and people all across the world will remember him as someone who loved his people and gave his life for them.

In life it’s easy to focus on yourself and what makes you happy. Its natural for us to want to take care of ourselves, which is important to some degree. But giving of ourselves to help others is also very important. It’s important to share and to think about what makes others happy. Spend some time thinking about what makes others happy and then do something about it. Next time you have a treat think about how happy it will make others to taste it, too. If you are playing with a toy, think about how your brother or sister or friend might enjoy playing with it. 

Ghandi believed in being peaceful. Next time someone wants to fight with you or argue, think about a more peaceful way you can deal with the problem. You never know, in the end someone who you think is an enemy might become a friend.

History of Charlemagne for Kids

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a king? Would it be an easy life for a hard one? Would you just do whatever you please, or would you work to make your kingdom a better place for the people living in it? Today we’re going to learn about Charlemagne, one of the most powerful kings of Europe. 

Charlemagne was born around the year 742 C.E. He lived during what is known as medieval times. Think of castles and knights and ladies. That is the medieval times. Charlemagne was a Frank. The Franks were a Germanic people who lived in what is now known as Belgium, France, Luxemborg, the Netherlands and Germany. The Franks became very powerful at the time the Roman Empire was losing power.  France is named after the Franks. 

Charlemagne’s father was Pepin the Short who was the king of the Franks. Pepin led the Franks in war and won many battles. His kingdom grew as he won battles for his people. This made him and his family very powerful. Very little is known about Charlemagne’s childhood to this day, but it is known that he grew tall and strong, he had light hair, and was good at learning languages. He became a powerful warrior and later in battle carried a large sword with a gold hilt, which he named Jway-uze.

When Charlemagne’s father died in 768, his kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman, who didn’t get along very well. But once his brother died, Charlemagne became the only ruler of the kingdom. He was also known as Charles the Great, which is what Charlemagne translates to. 

As king, Charlemagne’s main goal was to unite all of the people of his kingdom under one rule and one religion, which was Christianity. Charlemagne was a skilled military leader and used his talents and his army to bring other people under his rule. Over the years he fought in 53 military campaigns to enlarge his kingdom. The people he fought included the Avars (what is now Austria and Hungary), the Lombards (what is now Italy) and Bavaria, along with other peoples. One of his most difficult opponents were the Saxons, the people of what is now Germany. They wanted to be free and control their own lands, not be part of Charlemagne’s kingdom. They resisted him fiercely, but Charlemagne was determined to bring them under his rule, even though it required a great deal of violence and cruelty. Charlemagne was known for doing whatever it took to reach his goals of growing his kingdom. Even if it meant hurting others. But whenever Charlemagne conquered the Saxons in one place, they’d start fighting him in another place. It took him over 30 years to finally bring the Saxon’s under his rule, they were a very independence people. Because Charlemagne was Christian, anyone forced into his kingdom was required to adopt the his religion as well. Charlemagne also fought very hard to take control of Italy, which finally ended in 777 C.E.

Charlemagne had a very large family! It was very important to him that his children became educated. At the time only monks knew how to read and write, but Charlemagne believe it was important for kings and their families to be educated. This was very out of the ordinary for his day. He loved books and often had someone read to him while he was eating. Even though he was a kind and very rich, he dressed very simply and ate simple food. He believed this made him stronger. He also saw how many kings became rich and then became lazy, spending all of their time enjoying their money, good food, big castles, and nice clothes. Instead, Charlemagne focused on staying strong and smart. He built libraries in his homes and stayed active. He also made sure his children didn’t grow lazy with all of their wealth. He hired tutors to make sure his many children learned how to read and studied good books. 

Charlemagne once said to his sons, “You think because you are rich and are the sons of the great men of my kingdom that your birth and wealth will protect you in my favor. I will let you know that you stand in need of learning more than those who are poor and dependent. You think only of your pleasures and of your dress and play, but I attach no importance to your wealth and to your station, and if you idle your time when you are young you will be worthless when you are old.”

During the time of Charlemagne’s reign, the Christian church based in Rome was concerned about being taken over by its enemies. Because Charlemagne was Christian, he gave much of his money to support the church in Rome. The leader of the church in Rome was called the Pope, and at the time his name was Pope Leo III. In order to create a strong alliance between Rome and Charlemagne, so he could protect them, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans in 800 C.E. on Christmas Day at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This gave people and leaders throughout Rome even greater respect for Charlemagne. 

After taking control of much of Europe, and even though he did it in a very violent way, Charlemagne did a good job at taking care of the lands he had conquered. He allowed people to keep most of their laws and customs and let them rule themselves. Because he believed in education, he had schools built and used his money to pay for teachers. He also pushed for schools to use an alphabet that was the same, so people could communicate better within his big empire. 

He also wanted the economy to be strong in his empire. An economy relates to how people buy and sell things. He worked to have common money used throughout his empire, to make it easier for people to buy and sell goods. He ordered the construction of a great canal, the Fossa Carolina, to connect the Rhine and Danube Rivers. A canal is a man-made river. The uniting of these lands and the result of his reforms are called the Carolingian Renaissance. He also became known as the “Father of Europe.”

Charlemagne often moved throughout his empire, living in different lands in order to help govern them and push his reforms. He was also known to be very athletic. He liked hunting, horseback riding, and swimming. 

Because of his activity, Charlemagne was known to be very healthy most of his life, but during the last four years he had fevers and started to limp. In 813, he crowned his son Louis the Pious as a co-emperor. In 814 when Charlemagne died Louis became the emperor. He was buried in a cathedral in Aachen, ending a reign of more than 40 years. It is incredible to think of all that was accomplished during his reign. 

Like many people in history, Charlemagne’s character is a complicated one. Like many military leaders like Julius Caesar or Napolean, he was very driven by power to conquer all of Europe. This led him to do many terrible things and attack people who just wanted to be left alone. When Charlemagne did finally conquer, he did his best to make his kingdom a good one.

History of Christmas Carols For Kids

“We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Have you heard this song before?  It’s an example of a Christmas carol that we often hear on the radio and in homes around America and the world this time of year. Christmas carols are familiar tunes that bring joy and Christmas spirit during the winter.  But did you know that many famous Christmas carols have very un-Christmassy beginnings?

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but at the time they were not Christmas Carols.  They were songs that were sung to celebrate the Winter Solstice celebrations.  The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and usually falls on Dec 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere.  The Winter Solstice was commonly celebrated in Europe hundreds of years ago before Christianity spread throughout Europe. These people held religious beliefs that centered on nature and the natural world. They celebrated the Winter Solstice with songs that celebrated the turning of the season and the longer, brighter days ahead. 

When Christianity spread throughout Europe, these carols began to change and became a mix of old songs with new Christian themes. Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus around the same timing as the Winter Solstice, so over time the winter celebrations in Europe came to celebrate both. Eventually old pagan carols were combined with new song lyrics celebrating the birth of Jesus. 

The tradition of singing songs to celebrate this time of year eventually became part of the winter church services celebrated by Christians.  In the year 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome.  Another famous early Christmas song written for the Greek Orthodox Church in 760 was also sung at a Christmas service.  Soon after, many composers all over Europe started to write “Christmas Carols.”

At first, these new Christmas songs were not very popular, as they were all written and sung in Latin.  Latin was the language of the Romans and was used in church services, but it was a language that most regular people throughout Europe could not understand. During the Middle Ages, in the 1200s, Romans had been pushed back from their  positions of power throughout Europe and common people became less interested in Roman traditions.  Common European people stopped celebrating Christmas in church altogether and the tradition of singing songs to celebrate Christmas started to die out. 

This changed in 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi, a famous Italian Catholic preacher, started something new in Italy called a “Nativity Play”.  The play was performed in church at Christmas time and the people in the play sang songs or “canticles” that told the story of the birth of Jesus. The choruses of these new carols were sung in Latin, but St. Francis thought that the songs should be sung in the language that the people watching the play could understand and join in, so the songs’ versus were translated into a variety of European languages.  The new carols became popular and spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. 

The earliest carol like this was written in 1410.  It was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.  Unfortunately, only a small part of the song still exists.  Traveling singers during the Middle Ages, or “Minstrels”, sang these carols as they traveled from town to town for money.  This helped the songs to become common and popular all throughout Europe.

Churches eventually started to hire official carol singers called “Waits” that worked for the church and spread Christian messages by singing these songs in public.  “Waits” were bands of singers led by important local political leaders.  They would go throughout town singing the songs around Christmas time and collecting money for the church.  The groups were called “Waits” because they only sang on Christmas Eve, which was sometimes known as “watchnight” or “waitnight” back then.  The name reflected that the shepherds in the story of Jesus were watching their sheep at night when angels appeared to them.  Watchnight or Waitnight was considered to be when Christmas celebrations would begin in Europe.  

In England, the popularity of Christianity grew from the Middle Ages in the 1200s to the Victorian period in the 1800s.  For over 600 years, English people participated in church services and set up orchestras and choirs.  People enjoyed the music of church services and particularly liked singing Christmas songs, so carols grew in popularity throughout this time.  New carol services were created in Church and became popular at Christmas. So did the custom of singing carols in the streets to spread the message of Christmas and collect money for the church.  

Some of the carols that were written during this time period were songs that were made out of traditional English folk songs with Christmas lyrics added to them.  

In 1880, Edward White Benson, who was a Bishop in the town of Truro in England, noticed that people were not coming to church as much as he felt they should.  In particular, at Christmas, people in Truro liked to celebrate on Christmas eve, but they didn’t come to church.  Instead they would gather in pubs and drink alcohol and dance and sing.  Bishop Benson, decided to try to lure everyone out of the pub and into church for a new Christmas service.  

Truro didn’t have a cathedral, but instead they just held church services in a large shed. Bishop Benson had to really think about how he could make a church service held there interesting enough to get the townspeople to attend.  Bishop Benson and his wife and children all liked to write.  In fact, Bishop Benson is thought to have written the longest diary that was ever written at the time!

Because of his desire to draw people into church and his love of writing, Bishop Benson and his family decided to write some of their own songs celebrating Christmas.  One of the reasons that people loved going to the pubs was because they would sing together there.  They would sing folk songs, or traditional songs passed down from one generation to the next.  And they would also do folk dances.  In fact, this is what the world “carol” meant at the time.  It meant “to dance in a circle. 

Bishop Benson and his family wrote some Christmas songs to be performed in church.  Because some of the songs are combinations of old folk tunes and Christmas traditions or religious images, some Christmas carols can seem kind of strange. For example, have you ever heard the song, “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing”? The song doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think of the Christmas story.  Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, is a landlocked area.  This means there is no sea there on which ships could sail.  Some versions of the song involve Jesus on Christmas day in the morning.  But other versions involve three pretty girls on New Year’s Day.  It is likely that this song was originally a folk tune sung at pubs in England.  

The new version of Christmas church services became very popular.  People loved to come into church to be part of the singing and celebrating.  And the tradition of singing Christmas carols in church began to spread throughout the country. And Bishop Benson eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is the highest church position in the Church of England.

Let’s take a look at some specific Christmas carols and their history. 

The first is “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, other people started to collect these folk songs and turn them into new songs. Over time the songs were edited and changed until they became some of the traditional Christmas songs we all know and love today.  For example, the co-founder of Methodism, Charles Wesley, wrote a carol that began:  Hark how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”  He put these lyrics to a Mendelsson tune and that is how the carol was sung for over 20 year.  Until another preacher changed the first line to Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King! This is the version most people know today.  The original song was not religious, but it slowly became a song celebrating the Christian story of Jesus’s birth.

Another famous Christmas carol is “Good King Wenceslas.”

While the song sings about a real person, his name was not actually Wenceslas but Vaclav and he was the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th Century.  Vaclav had a difficult childhood.  His dad died when he was young and he was brought up by his mom and a grandma. But the two women fought about what his religion should be. When he grew to be an adult, Vaclav chose to be Christian.  He started doing good for others and in particular, he would give to the poor.  But he would do this secretly at night by leaving things they needed on their doorsteps. He was particularly interested in giving to widows, orphans and people with disabilities. After Vaclav died, he was declared a saint and king by Otto the Great. The song followed 500 years later when an Englishman named John Mason Neale heard a tune he liked and put together the lyrics to the song we now know today.

“Jingle Bells,” is another Christmas carol that did not have a Christmassy start. Jingle Bells, which was written in America, was actually originally written about Thanksgiving.

In modern times, Christmas carols are popular throughout the world.  There are various forms of Christmas songs, including rock tunes and dance songs.  And almost every famous musician puts out an album of Christmas songs, putting their own flare on traditional tunes that everyone knows. 

People in England and other countries still enjoy the tradition of carolling.  In modern times, this tradition sees groups of people go door to door to sing for neighbours and spread Christmas cheer.  Some carolers also collect money for the poor.  

And the tradition of a carol service or nativity play in church is still quite popular.  Many churches around the world hold a special Christmas service in which the story of Jesus’s birth is re-enacted and the church-goers sing Christmas carols together.  If you have never been to one of these services, it is something to try one day.  Singing together in a group can be very fun and you will be part of history watching the service and knowing it’s traditional roots.

What are some of your favourite Christmas carols?  Have you ever thought about where these songs came from?  With an adult’s help, you can research online about the origins of your favourite songs.  Perhaps the song you look at had a different beginning than you realized.  Some Christmas songs are tunes that are written by very famous composers with new lyrics to go with them.  

We hope you enjoy getting into the holiday spirit this December with good music, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or a different holiday depending on where you live and your background.  

Guy Fawkes For Kids

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November!”  This is a famous saying that you may have heard before.  But what does it mean and where did it come from?  Many of us in America have heard of Guy Fawkes and some may even know a little bit about his plot in 1605.  But many of us do not.  In tonight’s episode, we’re going to dive into Guy’s life and learn a bit about what life was like in England in the early 1600s. 

Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, England. He was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a lawyer who worked in the English courts, and his wife, Edith. Guy’s family were normal, wealthy people of their time.  They were members of the Church of England, a Protestant church. But Guy’s mother’s family were Catholics and she had grown up in a Catholic house.

Catholicism and Protestantism are different types of Christianity.  In the 1500s, most of England was Catholic and it usually had to do with who was with the King or Queen and what they wanted people to practice.  King Henry VIII declared that England would become a Protestant nation in the 1500s and after that, the government made efforts to get people to stop being Catholic. 

This is the world that Guy grew up in. He had two younger sisters, Anne and Elizabeth, and they were a happy family.  Unfortunately, when Guy was eight years old his father died. Guy and his sisters were then raised by their mom for a number of years on her own.  Eventually their mom remarried.  The mom’s new husband was a Catholic man and as a result, they started to practice Catholicism again. 

Catholicism in England that had been shut down under Henry VIII and continued to be suppressed by his successor Queen Elizabeth I. During her reign, Catholics could not legally celebrate their religious ceremonies or be married according to their own rites. Rites are religious customs or traditions.  Queen Elizabeth commanded that everyone needed to be Protestant and that they had to attend Protestant services, not Catholic services.  If they did not attend Protestant services, they would be fined.

Because Guy Fawkes lived such a long time ago, not many details of his life are known.  He was said to have a pleasant and cheerful personality and was loyal to his friends.  He was also described as growing to become a “tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard”.  Guy was the only son in his family, so according to laws of the time, he inherited the family’s home and land in Clifton in York. The home was cared for by his mother when Guy was still a child. But once Guy became an adult, it passed to him and he lived in it and cared for it for the first few years that he was an adult.

In October 1591, at the age of 21, Guy Fawkes sold his home and land in Clifton in York. He had decided to become a soldier and went to Europe to fight in a war with Spanish Catholics against non-Catholics. He now felt very strongly about his family’s Catholic faith and wanted to help return Catholicism as the main religion in England and throughout Europe. 

Guy lived in Europe for nearly 10 years and fought as a paid soldier for Spanish during this time.  During this time, he changed his name to “Guido” which is a Spanish version of “Guy”. He fought in many battles and eventually became a captain. 

In 1603, Guy talked to the Spanish royalty and tried to convince them that after everything he had done for them, they should now help support a Catholic rebellion in England.  A rebellion is an uprising of people that fight against the government in order to make a change.  In England, the feelings between Catholics and non-Catholics were becoming worse.  Queen Elizabeth had died and King James I was now the new king.  King James continued Elizabeth’s efforts to shut down Catholicism in England. The Spanish King listened to Guy Fawkes request.  However, he decided not to get involved and did not support his rebellion.  

Guy returned to England at age 33 and continued to be angry about what he saw happening to his religion.  Because Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion opening, many met in secret for ceremonies and talked about ways to make changes so that they could live more freely again. One idea that a small group of priests had was to kidnap the new King of England, King James I. This particular plan failed and the priests who were planning this were captured.

But others started plotting something similar.  In May 1604, a group of five men, including Guy Fawkes, met at a hotel in London.  They talked about what they could do to help make Catholicism the main religion in England. One of the men, Robert Catesby, suggested a plan that they blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder.  The Houses of Parliament are a part of government, like Congress in the United States, that make laws.  Eight other men later joined them in the plot, which became known as the “Gunpowder Plot”.  A plot is a plan or a scheme to do something.

The plotters thought that if they blew up Parliament and King James and his son, who would also be there on the opening day, that this would leave only King James’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to be Queen. Then they would convince Princess Elizabeth to bring Catholicism back to England. 

Guy Fawkes was one of these “plotters”.  He started using the name “Guido” again instead of “Guy”.  He also used another alias, or fake name, “John Johnson”. Using this name John Johnson, Guy Fawkes got a job as the caretaker of a cellar located just below the House of Lords (which is a government group similar to the Senate in America). 

The plotters rented a room in a building near Parliament.  It was unused and filthy, so they considered it an ideal hiding place for the gunpowder that they planned to use to be stored. According to Fawkes, 20 barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by 16 more. Gunpowder is a black powder used in guns and bombs and explodes when it comes in contact with sparks or flames.

With Guy in this job as caretaker beneath Parliament, the plotters started moving gunpowder from their rented room and stockpiling it in the cellar. The group planned that on November 5, 1605, Guy would light a fuse during the opening of a new session of Parliament. He would then escape by boat and make his way across the River Thames in London to safety on the other side. 

As the date got closer, the plotters got ready to execute their plan.  However, a week and half before their plans were to take place, the plotters were stopped.  On October 26, a letter was sent to the police telling them to wait to start Parliament because there was a plan to blow it up.  The letter was anonymous, which means that it is sent without a name so no one knows who it is from.  To this day, no one knows for sure who wrote the letter.  But the police went to the place beneath Parliament around midnight on November 4.  They found Guy Fawkes waiting there with matches in his pocket and 36 barrels of gunpowder stacked next to him. 

Guy Fawkes was arrested.  Soon after, the police found his co-conspirators and arrested them as well, except for four of them, including Catesby, who died in a shootout with English troops. Guy and his co-conspirators were all found guilty of high treason. Treason means a serious crime against your own country. They were all executed shortly after that, in January 1606. 

Following this plot, the government in England made new laws that made life for Catholics even more strict.  They were not allowed to vote in elections, practice law or serve in the military.  These laws actually stayed in place for over 200 years. 

After the plot was revealed, Londoners learned of what had almost happened and were very happy that the plot had been found out and nothing had been blown up.  They began lighting bonfires.  They were happy that their government and King James had not been bombed.  The government declared November 5 as a day of thanksgiving in England.  This is now known as “Guy Fawkes Day” and is celebrated every year in England and other parts of the world now. 

In today’s celebrations, British people treat Guy Fawkes Day as a time to get together with friends and family, set off fireworks, light bonfires and attend parades.  Some even burn puppets of Guy Fawkes. Children traditionally wheel around their puppets of Guy Fawkes from door to door demanding a “penny for the Guy”, which became a custom similar to Halloween trick-or-treating.  

While the story of Guy Fawkes is a sad and difficult one, there are always things that can be learned from history. What can be learned from Guy Fawkes and the plotters?  He was certainly a man of conviction.  Conviction means confidence and faith.  He wanted to bring a better life for his Catholic people in England.  However, he tried to go about it in a violent way.  The plotters’ plan to blow up parliament was very sad because it involved violence and destruction in order to bring about what they wanted. Violence is not the answer to making the world a better place. Indeed the plot backfired because once it was revealed, it resulted in stricter laws for Catholics, not an easier life like the plotters wanted.  

Sometimes when we hear sad or hard stories in history, it is good to learn from how this story impacted society and the way life is now.  While the story of Guy Fawkes is a sad story, we can see how the plotters plan and the ultimate failure of that plan had major impacts on British culture for years to come. And this is why British people “Remember, remember the fifth of November.”

Mother Teresa for Kids

Watch Mother Teresa accept the Noble Peace Prize

On August 26, 1910 a baby girl was born in the city of Skopje (SKOP-eeh-eh), Macedonia. Her parents named her Agnes. They were the Bojaxhiu (boy-a-GEE-you) family and they were Albanian. Agne’s father, Nikola, owned a construction company and was on the town council. Many people knew her father and he did his best to earn money for his family and make his city a better place. Drana was Agne’s mother and she loved to take care of the poor and the needy. Often when Agne’s and her siblings came to dinner, Drana had invited strangers to eat with them. Agnes later found out these people were poor, and even though her mother didn’t know them, she fed them and often let them spend the night if they didn’t needed a place to stay. During the day, Drana went out into the city to share food and water with the needy. She often took Agnes along to help.

Agnes and her family were Catholic, which is a religion that believes in and follows the teachings of Jesus. Many people in their city were Muslim or Jewish, which had different beliefs, but Drana taught her family that they should love and serve people of all races and religions. Religion was an important part of their family  tradition. Agnes sang in the choir, the prayed daily and went to church weekly. Agnes liked to read about Catholic missionaries who travelled the world. A missionary is someone who moves far away to teach others about their religion and serve them.

When Agnes was 12 years old she had a deeply spiritual experience and decided her life’s mission would be to help others. When she was 14 she started teaching Sunday School at church and joined a group called the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which met together to pray and serve the poor. By 18 she decided to become a missionary nun. In the Catholic Church a nun dedicates her life to her faith and to teaching and serving others. Agne’s mother was proud of her daughter, but knew if she became a nun she would move far away and may never see her again. But finally after much prayer, Drana gave Agnes her support. It was very hard to leave her family, but Agnes was determined and strongly believed this was her life’s mission.

So Agne packed her bags and said goodbye to her family from the train station. It was one of the hardest moments of her life, because she knew she may never see them again. First, she travelled to Ireland, where she lived with other nuns and learned English. Agnes worked hard and picked up on the new language fast. Next, she took a train to Italy and then a boat to Calculutta, India and finally to Darjeeling, India. On the way, she saw crowds of people in the street who were poor, sick, and hungry. Her heart ached and she wanted more than anything to help the suffering.

In Darjeeling, Agnes continued to learn English, and two more languages, Hindi and Begali. She also started teaching children who attended their school. She loved teaching and soon became very good at managing the school and helping the children. During this time Agnes took her vows as a nun and took on a new name, Sister Teresa, after one of her favorite saints of the same name.

Before long, Agnes, now Sister Teresa, was running most of the school and when the Mother Superior became ill, Sister Teresa took her place and from then on was known as Mother Teresa. She continued to teach and loved what she was doing, but often she’d look out the windows of the convent and see people who suffered and needed help. She believed serving them was her true calling, but sadly because she was a nun she wasn’t able to leave the school.

Mother Teresa prayed for the people, but she also believed in taking action, so she received permission to gather a group of nuns and weekly leave the school to take food and medicine to those in need. But for Mother Teresa, this wasn’t enough! She wanted to spend all of her time serving these people — but to do it she’d need permission from the Pope, who was the head of the Catholic Church. So Mother Teresa wrote a letter and continued writing and asking until she was given permission to remain a nun, but also live outside the school and help the people of Calcutta.

Imagine how nervous Mother Teresa felt when she left the safety of her school and ventured into the big city for the first time. In many ways it was a dangerous place, so it required great bravery and faith to venture out in this new, unknown world. Mother Teresa wanted to blend in with the women of India, s0 she changed her black nun’s clothes out for a white traditional robe, called a sari.

After finding a place to live and a little money, Mother Teresa walked the streets of the city looking for people she could help. She wasn’t sure what to do, so she started doing what she did best, teaching! She drew letters in the dirt and curious kids started gathering around her. Soon a huge crowd of children surrounded Mother Teresa each day, hungry to learn, and feel of her love and attention for them.

When people in the city saw what she was doing they started donating money and items to help. Her former students volunteered their time. Before long Mother Teresa started a new order called the Missionaries of Charity. Every day Mother Teresa and her nuns said prayers, ate breakfast, then went out into the slums of Calcutta to help others. A slum is a place where very poor people live. Often their homes are broken down or they sleep on the streets with very little clothes or shelter. There is usually no clean water and garbage and diseases spread easily. 

At first Mother Teresa and the other nuns would carry people to the hospital, but soon the city leaders saw the good they were doing and gave them an old building to use. The nuns cleaned it up and began caring for the sick. Mother Teresa was determined to treat all people equally, regardless of their religion, like her mother taught her. If they were Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu, she still said their prayers with them and did what they asked even though their requests were different than her Catholic faith. 

Leprosy was a disease that infected many people in India. It causes sores all over peoples’ bodies and no one wants to be around them, because they are worried the leprosy will spread. But Mother Teresa wasn’t concerned about herself, so every day she and her helpers drove a van around Calcutta and found lepers in the street. They set aside a special village for the lepers, where they could live and be taken care of.

In 1969 a journalist noticed what Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity were doing in Calcutta, and made a film about them. When people around the world saw what they were doing and what a difference they were making in India, they started donating money and other supplies to help her cause. Remember, that in order for Mother Teresa to help the sick and poor, she needed medicine and buildings and food and money. It takes many humans working together to make a difference! And every little donation helped! Soon, the Missionaries of Charity were able to help even more people and began to open new cities around the world. Next was Rome, Italy and then places like Australia, Africa and England, and later New York. 

In 1979 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her goal was never to be famous, she just believed she had a mission to fulfill and did what came natural to her, loving others and serving them. Her life wasn’t always easy and many times she was nervous or afraid. Helping others often takes courage. It can be easy to be too shy or nervous to help someone, but I challenge you to take the leap and do it anyway! Most of the time others are happy to receive help and to just know they are loved and someone cares about them. For example, if someone is new to your class at school or in your neighborhood you can say “hi” to them and let them join in your play. Or take them a plate of cookies. People love to be cared about and feel like they belong. 

One reason Mother Teresa’s organization was successful was because people in India and all over the world donated to help out. Find a cause that you and your family care about and consider donating. Even small amounts make a difference. Our family has donated to different charities over the years and helped pack food for the hungry. Ask your parents about local charities that do the same thing. It’s always a great experience and feels good to know what you are doing makes the world a better place!